Little Heroes Is All We Are

little heros

I have a confession to make: I littered this week. It was just an apple core (okay- sorry, I shouldn’t be justifying it). I ate it while driving to a meeting. I didn’t want to have it left sitting in my cup-holder. So I casually dropped it out the window of my car, hoping- praying– that the butterfly effect wouldn’t mean that I’d just killed the remnant of some exotic orangutan in Malaysia.

I dropped it just before coming around a bend; I figured I’d be well out of sight within a couple seconds and I wouldn’t have to give my transgression another thought. But then traffic stopped. And- because God’s justice and humor are mixed- I came to a halt with my side mirror perfectly focused on the apple core lying in the street. The pavement suddenly looked remarkably clean and kempt; the core was it’s only blemish.

Thus was my sin, resting on the street like a pimple on the tip of one’s nose come school picture day.

I also saved a life this week. This too while driving between meetings. I’d seen her from a distance, lying halfway across my lane, in just the spot so that car wheels wouldn’t hit her- unless she tried to move further. I threw on the hazard lights and dashed between cars. I lifted her and carried her from the road, gently laying her in the grass. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes caught mine. And in that moment, I felt brave.

I think she was a box turtle. Possibly an eastern painted. I’ve never been able to tell the difference.

I was out for a walk when I came upon a small pond. It’s situated just off a local back road, between the pavement and some forgotten railroad tracks that parallel it’s northern shore. To be honest, it’s less of a pond and more of a disgusting scum hole. The water is murky and mud of various colors populates its shores. Leaves are slowly rotting in the shallow parts, creating a consistency similar to that of old porridge.

If Satan has a septic tank, I found the overflow.

As I passed the pond- onto greener (and cleaner) pastures- I couldn’t help but notice some bubbles disturbing its otherwise morbidly placid surface. I looked closer and saw the outline of a fish, no more than a few inches long.

Remarkable, if you think about it. That a pond so vile could be a portal for the miraculous; the boy has five loaves and two fishes- but he hasn’t showered in days.

The human necessity to be a necessity is often overlooked. No one wants to be a leech. We might like the benefits of such a role. But no one wants it on their name-tag.

I’ve been struggling this week- well, most weeks really- struggling with the fact that I don’t measure up. No one’s ever told me as much- at least, not directly. But I’ve not made any progress on some of my writing projects; a friend was in town but didn’t have the time to visit; when I look in the mirror I see wrinkles, flab and pimples jeering back; on the graduation program there’s no sigma cum whateverthehellitis next to my name.

And in the void of affirmation, a mutant whisper rises from the shape of an apple core, lying on the road: “You’ve no merit, no purpose. And you’re deeds smell like a scummy pond.”

But there’s at least one turtle that might beg to differ. My accuser stands ready; but the defense is rising from the ashes.

A little hero is all I am; it’s all we are. And even this only during the shining hours, our greatest moments. Moments when we transform into small ones, but heroes nonetheless. Our best intentions dash between traffic where we might slip on an apple core. But still we run. And the smelly ponds we’ve become may reek but they’re also a lifeline for the least of these.

And isn’t that enough?

If I live this life for the sole purpose of picking up a turtle from the middle of the road, if I’m the pond and that’s my fish, my calling, my cross—isn’t that enough? Won’t grace bridge the gap between redemption and errant but earnest hearts?

When I returned home from one of those meetings or walks- I really can’t remember which- my wife greeted me with a hug.

“I’ve missed you,” she said.

How puzzling. “I was only gone an hour.”

She didn’t say anything but held the hug for another moment, another breath. And the rising of her chest against my own felt like bubbles drifting to the surface of a placid pond.

“I saved a turtle today.”

She looked up and smiled. “My hero.”

It’s enough.

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How We Met

I have often felt in sharing details of my personal life that few people will take interest in it. My stories are the same as millions of others; prayers meant more for personal enlightenment and petition rather than publication. Simultaneous with that line of thought, I have to come to realize there are certain things in life concerning which I am simply not equipped or skilled enough to tell. One of these things took place earlier this summer, when I proposed to my girlfriend (at the time) Mollie. She said “yes” (wonder of wonders!) and we have since been planning a wedding and the beginning of our life together.

I do not have the words to describe how much she means to me, though I may try from time to time. Nor can I actually sum up my current attempt to learn what it means to love and be loved, day in and day out. Sometimes I try and I’m privileged to say that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. But for now, all I want to do is share the story of how we met, because if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that certain stories are certainly worth telling. Certain prayers, particularly those of thanksgiving, are worth saying aloud.

It was the middle of October, a brisk, cold and rainy day that signaled fall begun to bid adieu and winter was nipping at it’s heels. I was studying in my seminary’s library when I received a text message from a student at Wheaton College- my alma mater- who’d been in a small group Bible study I’d led.

“Hey,” the text said, “my friend Mollie is visiting your school this weekend, would you be willing to show her around?”

I thought about it; despite our years at Wheaton overlapping, I couldn’t recall that name. Furthermore, I had a date planned for the weekend with my Greek textbook. Nonetheless, I debated, she is a Wheatie and I do want to make her feel welcome. (Read: I quickly asked some other Wheaton classmates if they new the name, the general response of which was “Yes, she’s super cute”). So I replied:

“Sure thing, give her my number and let her know she’s definitely free to contact me!”

Moments later the response came back:

“Well, here’s her number- can you drop her a line and set up a time to meet and everything?”

I shrugged to myself.

“Sure,” I typed out. “Thanks for the number. I’ll touch base with her sometime later this week.”

After a pause my phone buzzed again, interrupting my concentration, again. For the love of all things… I thought.

“Can’t you just text her now and set it up?”

To this day, our mutual friend denies any foul play in the situation, but I’ve always been suspicious. With a “I really need to be studying right now and this is getting old” sigh, I sent Mollie a quick text message and arranged a time to meet with her that Saturday. I then returned to my Greek without another thought.

Truth be told, I actually forgot about the whole thing until Mollie texted me the day of her arrival. Realizing my mistake, I cleared some dinner plans (eating alone, watching Parks and Recreation) so I could have dinner with her and her mother, Mary, upon their arrival.

That evening, I got a phone call and met Mollie out in the parking lot, the last space on the right of the middle column to be exact. She got out of the car and the first time she smiled at me I knew there was something incredibly special about this girl.

I introduced myself to her and her mother than asked where she was from:

“Wisconsin,” she said, “and do you know anyone who’d be watching the Packers game tomorrow? I don’t want to miss it.”

That’s when I realized what was so special about her: she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.

I showed Mollie and Mary around campus which was a debacle consisting of Mollie being gorgeous and charming and me attempting to sound intelligent while routinely stumbling over my words (“this is the, uh, lirbee- I mean library…it’s, it’s where I learn things….from books”). Afterwards we ate dinner in the school cafeteria with my roommate (another Wheaton grad) and I asked her if she’d like to join us and some other seminary friends for some drinks at a local ba- um, restaurant.

“I’d like to,” she said. “But we’re staying at a hotel in Danvers and I’m afraid I’m not insured to drive the rental car.”

“I can give you a ri-“ my roommate started.

“I CAN PICK YOU UP!!!!!!” I jumped in then caught myself. “Eh-hem. I mean, I think I could give you a ride. If you wanted to go…”

Mollie looked at me with an angelic smile. “Are you sure? It’s not too much trouble?”

I shook my head in a nonchalant manner. “No trouble. Really. It’s not a problem, totally on the way.”

“That’d be great,” Mollie said. And I took a victorious swig of my soda attempting to ignore my roommate’s what-on-earth-has-gotten-into-you? stare across the table. Danvers was totally, undeniably, completely out of the way.

We went out with a group of seminary friends that night to a local venue where there was a live band performing. Mollie and I arrived before most of the group and we waited inside. There was a group of people swing dancing and I felt somewhat awkward just standing there and watching. I wanted desperately to ask her to dance, but asking a girl to dance requires knowing how to dance; the gross sum of my skills in that area is akin to cavemen. So we sat and watched the dancers occasionally yelling conversation starters over the music until our friends showed up and we moved to picnic tables outside the restaurant.

We sat outside surrounded by my friends at the seminary. The evening was even cooler than earlier in the week and I hadn’t brought a jacket but was donning my typical black wind vest. I wore it because I thought it was just enough casual, just enough outdoorsy and just enough savvy. After a little while, I noticed Mollie shivering a bit next to me and asked if she was cold.

“A little,” she said, though her face said: “Yes, very!”

“Would you like my vest?” I asked, perhaps a little too eagerly.

She gave it a skeptical glance. “But it doesn’t have any sleeves…I’m not sure it would help much.”

“Oh, you’re cold?” Another seminary student piped in. “Here,” he said, “You can use my jacket- it’s nice and warm…with sleeves.” Touché, irony.

Mollie accepted his jacket graciously and I excused myself to the restroom so I could bang my head against the wall.

When I returned, I sat down next to Mollie who was no longer shivering. I sat silently for a moment, brooding over the fact that I’d worn a vest on a cold night when I knew I’d have the world’s cutest female sitting next to me. Then another student stood up and said he was going to grab a drink.

“Mollie,” he said, “can I get you anything? Soda, some water maybe?”

…at which time I realized I’d been sitting next to the world’s cutest female for nearly an hour and hadn’t offered to get her a drink.

Mollie smiled- oh, that smile! “Yes! Please- I’m pretty thirsty.”

I stood up.

“Where you going?” Someone asked. And Mollie looked up; she looked at me!!!!

“I…uh…I think I left my phone in the bathroom.” I said. To whence I returned and proceeded to bang my head against the wall.

On the drive home, I was still regretting the fact that I’d overlooked basic gentlemanly procedures and yet was enjoying talking with Mollie. As the drive progressed, I couldn’t figure out why suddenly all I wanted was to desperately be with this girl that had walked into my life, quite literally, just a few hours previously. As we pulled into her hotel, my mind reeled for conversation starters and I thought of a good one.

“So…uh…the election is coming up…who ya gonna vote for?” (Note: this is the only time in my life I have ever been grateful for the existence of political parties and controversies).

Whether she noticed or not, Mollie obliged and dove into a conversation as I put the car in park; from the start, I loved listening to her talk. Politics bled into theology, which bled into collegiate memories, aspirations and finally dating.

“So…are you dating anyone?” I threw the question in a little less than casually.

She shook her head and in my head all the angels of heaven sang the “Hallelujah” chorus.

“Well,” I said, “I better walk you to your room.”

…and the heavenly trumpets went “wah-wah” as Michael the Archangel screamed “WHAT IN THE NAME OF MY BOSS IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!?!”

For the previous year, I’d lived under the belief that taking risks was one thing I would never regret. This belief had carried me up mountains, through hurricanes and snowstorms and landed me some of the best encounters with the Divine I could ever imagine.

But as I walked Mollie to the hotel door that night, for some reason, the smallest most vulnerable risk, the words “could I take you out on a date before you leave?” scared the daylights out of me. I felt as though I were on the edge of a cliff, about to take the jump that would send me diving into a bottomless mystery and that the bungee chord attached to my feet was intentionally questionable. I felt that even in saying those words I had no idea where they might take me, where they might take us.

She was about to turn and walk inside when I stuttered. “I…uh….I…I liked talking to you tonight.”

She smiled at me. “I enjoyed talking with you too.”

*long awkward pause*

“Well…um…so…”

(Angels in heaven: “Yes! …you can do it… Eight simple words: ‘do you want to go on a date?’”)

I cleared my throat. “So…uh” I began “….I know you’re not in town much longer, but I really loved talking with you and, um, do you think we could hang out again sometime? Maybe get coffee or something before you leave?”

So I’m not Shakespeare, but I’d done it. However feebly, nervously and awkwardly it may have been, I’d taken the plunge. I couldn’t tell then if I was just being overly optimistic but I could’ve sworn her smile widened. “I’d like that.” She said. “Just let me know.”

And then she hugged me, (SHE GAVE ME A HUG!!!!!) turned and walked through the building. In doing so she, unbeknownst to me at the time, took every inch of what I’d previously called “my life” with her.

I drove home with the windows down and thoughts racing. I’d just asked Mollie Rae- the name I’d never heard until days previously now sounded so beautiful!- on a date! Well…I’d asked her to “hang out” but who cares!?! That’s a date in modern lingo? Right? Maybe? I had no idea what to think. I had to talk to someone so the moment I got back to my room I turned on the light and woke up my roommate.

“Hey! Wake up!” I said.

“Mmf.”

Pssst!” I shook him by the shoulders. “Hey! I’ve got to talk to you! I have no idea what happened but I just asked Mollie on a date!!!”

He rolled over and squinted at me. “What time is it?” he asked.

I glanced at my watch. Whoa. “It’s 4:30 AM.” I said.

“Great,” he said, “then I’ll care about this in four hours.” And thus ended our conversation and one of the best nights of my life.

As for our first date spent star gazing on a beach (I was counseled that the coffee idea wasn’t too original), how close I came to bombing a mid-term because I’d spent two days and nights sharing sweet nothings with the cutest girl I’d ever met, the time a few days later when I called her, asked that if I happened to be in the Wheaton area, would she be free? (without mentioning that I’d already bought a plane ticket) and the endless tales of laughter, fights, resolutions, smiles and jokes since then… well…those, those are other stories for another time.

But there you have it, the story of October 20th, 2012, the night I met the love of my life, Mollie Rae.